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Gen. Monty Meigs (Ret.)
Military leader

Gen. Monty Meigs (Ret.)

A retired U.S. Army General, Montgomery Meigs has commanded U.S. and NATO forces overseas and is now President and CEO of Business Executives for National Security.

Old Soldiers Never Die

In retirement military figures never really escape the obligation for restraint in their public commentary. The public sees a politician like former Vice President Dick Cheney primarily in the rear view mirror of his extensive record in government. They will always judge him as a political actor.

Senior military officers leave office not only with a deep reservoir of special expertise in military and strategic affairs, they do so with a great deal of respect from the public. That respect draws on a sensing that the military generally tell truth to power, have a higher degree of accountability than their civilian counterparts, and that in their service subordinate self to duty.

Retired officers are indeed citizens with a right to express their views. And well-formed assessments drawn from military expertise can help to balance administration policy gone awry, a valuable input to discourse in a democracy. But having put their uniform in the closet, servicemen and women must realize that entering the fray of public debate carries a certain responsibility.

When flag officers become political partisans, they create a particular risk. If civilian leaders are to select on merit alone the generals and admirals they place in senior commands, they must have a visceral confidence in the political disinterest of military officers. We will suffer as a nation if perceptions of party orientation come routinely to affect how our civilian leaders select the men and women who will lead our sons and daughters in combat.

Venturing into the public domain, a retired officer must realize that his value derives from his ability to speak from his unique experience. He cannot avoid representing, if even indirectly, his old service or the Department of Defense. Straying from that foundation can lead to unfortunate misperception.

By Gen. Monty Meigs (Ret.)

 |  May 12, 2009; 12:08 PM ET
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Have to agree with AMviennaVA.

Dick was never a soldier but will always be a Dick.

Posted by: 1GhostRider1 | May 13, 2009 12:57 PM
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I appreciate the comment by the author, but I do not see the relevance to Cheney.

As I recall, Cheney never served in the military. He used every deferment available (as did Clinton whom some call a 'draft-dodger' for it, as did I as well as millions of others) and when he ran out he became a prospective daddy (which is actually beyond what most did to avoid service). All because he had different priorities at the time!

Posted by: AMviennaVA | May 13, 2009 9:29 AM
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